Ryan Graves makes his NHL de­but

Yar­mouth hockey player Ryan Graves re­called by Colorado Avalanche last week

Tri-County Vanguard - - Sports - TINA COMEAU THE­VAN­GUARD.CA

It was the call Ryan Graves of Yar­mouth had been wait­ing years for but had dreamed about most of his life.

Graves, 23, made his NHL de­but on Dec. 27 wear­ing #27 for the Colorado Avalanche in a league game ver­sus the Ve­gas Golden Knights – an op­pos­ing team that didn’t ex­ist when Graves was drafted to the NHL in the fourth round by the New York Rangers in 2013.

In a post-game in­ter­view with re­porters, Graves was asked what it was like to be called up from the Avalanche’s af­fil­i­ate Colorado Ea­gles to play in his first of­fi­cial NHL game.

“It was pretty sur­real,” he said. “I’ve been wait­ing for that call for a few years now.”

Graves was ac­quired by the Avalanche fran­chise in a trade dur­ing the 2017-2018 sea­son. He had done pre-sea­son NHL ex­hi­bi­tion play dur­ing train­ing camps with the Rangers and Avalanche (scor­ing a goal with both teams) but had never got­ten the chance to suit up for an of­fi­cial NHL game.

Last sum­mer, as he pre­pared for the hockey sea­son ahead, he was asked if he was dis­cour­ag­ing that he hadn’t yet got­ten to prove him­self on an NHL ros­ter. Graves said, “Ba­si­cally you can’t look back, you just have to look for­ward and I’m hop­ing I get an op­por­tu­nity in Colorado. And if and when I get that op­por­tu­nity I’ll make the best of it.”

Which is what he did dur­ing his Dec. 27 de­but. The 6-foot-5, 225-lb de­fense­man had two shots on net, as well as a hit and a block, dur­ing his 8:26 of ice time in the game in which the Knights edged the Avalanche 2-1. He told re­porters he was happy with his per­for­mance.

The coach­ing staff ap­peared to be as well, as Graves played in his sec­ond NHL game just two days later in front of the Colorado home crowd against the Chicago Black­hawks. Graves de­liv­ered a big hit on Black­hawk Bren­dan Per­lini and recorded five blocked shots in the game, which the Black­hawks won 3-2 in over­time with the Avalanche down a player due to a four-minute high-stick­ing penalty near the end of the third pe­riod.

The an­nounc­ers on Alti­tude Sports and En­ter­tain­ment, the lo­cal Avalanche af­fil­i­ate, praised Graves’ per­for­mance in his first two NHL con­tests dur­ing the tele­vised broad­cast of the Avalanche-Black­hawks game, with for­mer NHLer Mark Rycroft say­ing Graves, who has been play­ing AHL pro-hockey for four years, should have seen of­fi­cial NHL ice sooner than this and JohnMichael Liles, a for­mer Colorado Avalanche de­fense all-star, not­ing the coach­ing staff was not afraid to throw Graves out onto the ice against Chicago top play­ers Jonathan Toews and Pa­trick Kane.

“It’s been im­pres­sive,” he said about Graves’ play. “I like how big he is . . . and how he moves with and with­out the puck.”

HIS DEC. 27 DE­BUT

In the stands watch­ing his first NHL game on Dec. 27 were Ryan’s fa­ther Ron Graves, his mother Mon­ica Bren­nan and his girl­friend Clare Casey who had all boarded three sep­a­rate flights on short no­tice to watch his de­but in per­son. His mother had just landed in Hal­i­fax af­ter spend­ing Christ­mas with Ryan in Colorado when she found out he had been re­called by the Avalanche. She im­me­di­ately made ar­range­ments to board an­other plane.

“He played a great game,” his mother said. “We are very, very happy for him.”

Ryan’s dad Ron also used the word ‘sur­real’ to de­scribe the ex­pe­ri­ence.

“You just wanted him to do well and not make any mis­takes and just play to the best of his abil­i­ties, which he did,” he said. “He looked like he blended into the team very, very well.”

Ryan Graves told re­porters he did have pre-game jit­ters but said that his coaches and the Avalanche play­ers had told him to just go out, keep it sim­ple and play his game, which he did.

SUP­PORT FOR GRAVES

The amount of sup­port ex­tended to Graves and his fam­ily in ad­vance of his first NHL game – through texts, phone calls, and mes­sages through Face­book and Twit­ter – was huge from friends, fam­ily, past teams and past team­mates. The sup­port was par­tic­u­larly strong from his home­town of Yar­mouth.

Yar­mouth res­i­dent Adam Churchill was one of Graves’ mi­nor hockey coaches in Yar­mouth for six years. At the time Graves was drafted to the NHL in 2013, Churchill re­called go­ing to a ban­tam AAA tour­na­ment where Graves was named the top de­fense­men out of 24 teams. He de­scribed him then as a big kid who “had a pro-like shot at the age of 14.” (In­ci­den­tally, Graves won the AHL all-star hard­est shot com­pe­ti­tion in 2016 with a 103.4 MPH shot that would have placed him in third place had he made the same shot at the 2016 NHL all-star com­pe­ti­tion.)

The day af­ter Graves’ NHL de­but, Churchill summed up what a lot of peo­ple were feel­ing.

“It was ex­cit­ing to see him get to play a game in the NHL,” he said, say­ing he had sent Graves a text wish­ing him the best and telling him to make the most of this op­por­tu­nity. “I know he has worked ex­tremely hard to get the chance to play and hope­fully he will have more op­por­tu­ni­ties to stay up with the Avalanche.”

Graves has filled in for an in­jured player.

For­mer NHLer Jody Shel­ley – who al­ways refers to Yar­mouth as his home­town – also sent con­grat­u­la­tions to Graves.

“I was ex­cited for him, and I was ex­cited for his fam­ily and then I was ex­cited for the peo­ple in Yar­mouth, I see how proud they are of him,” he told the Tri-County Van­guard, not­ing when Graves par­tic­i­pates in Shel­ley’s an­nual Golf Fore Health tour­na­ment, which has raised hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars to pur­chase hos­pi­tal equip­ment for the Yar­mouth hos­pi­tal, ev­ery­one talks about how proud they are of his work ethic and of his suc­cesses through­out his hockey ca­reer.

“This is like watch­ing a kid’s dream come true,” Shel­ley said. “It’s a spe­cial thing hav­ing a com­mu­nity be­hind you.”

Graves’ fa­ther Ron said he was re­ceiv­ing so many mes­sages prior to the Dec. 27 game that he had to add more data on his phone within half an hour of ar­riv­ing in Las Ve­gas.

“It’s just great to see the peo­ple of Yar­mouth sup­port­ing Ryan, he truly ap­pre­ci­ates it. And us as par­ents we ap­pre­ci­ate it all,” he said, adding Ryan’s fam­ily hopes his ex­pe­ri­ence serves as en­cour­age­ment to other young peo­ple.

“We just want kids to know that if you work hard and you re­ally be­lieve in your­self, and your par­ents can sup­port you in what­ever way they can, that it is pos­si­ble. Be­cause we’re in Yar­mouth it’s not a lim­i­ta­tion. I think Ryan is an ex­am­ple of that,” he said. “I would en­cour­age kids to just be­lieve in them­selves and ded­i­cate them­selves to the hard work it takes … It doesn’t mat­ter what the dream is. For us it was hockey, it could be some­thing dif­fer­ent for some­one else.”

As for Ryan, he was ever hum­ble af­ter his NHL de­but. Although the Avalanche didn’t win the Dec. 27 game he told re­porters, “It’s been a good ex­pe­ri­ence and I’m very grate­ful for it.”

In a live sec­ond-in­ter­mis­sion in­ter­view dur­ing the Dec. 29 broad­cast of the game against Chicago, Graves was asked about what he thought of the con­fi­dence Avalanche head coach Jared Bed­nar had shown in him.

Said Graves, “It’s a process. Just try­ing to keep it sim­ple, stick to my game and hope­fully things go the right way for me and I’ll keep giv­ing it my best ef­fort.”

EMILY WADE/ COLORADO AVALANCHE SO­CIAL ME­DIA

Ryan Graves on the ice dur­ing the warmup prior to his first of­fi­cial NHL game. He suited up with the Colorado Avalanche for a game against the Ve­gas Golden Knights.

EMILY WADE/ COLORADO AVALANCHE SO­CIAL ME­DIA

Ryan Graves speaks with re­porters fol­low­ing his Dec. 27 NHL de­but.

CON­TRIB­UTED

Ryan Graves of Yar­mouth with his mom Mon­ica Bren­nan at the T-Mo­bile Arena in Las Ve­gas af­ter mak­ing his NHL de­but suited up for the Colorado Avalanche in a game against the Ve­gas Golden Knights on Dec. 27.

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